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The Costs of Con AIr

Robert Warney, Author of Ties-2-Stripes book. Featured on Fox Good Day NY.

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The Costs of "Con Air"

By the Numbers

The Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System (JPATS) also known as "Con Air” transports Federal Prisoners between prisons, detaining centers, courthouses, and other locations. They transport prisoners using a network of cars, vans, buses, and aircraft. It is managed by the United States Marshall's Service located in Kansas City, Missouri. Many of the 350,000 overall prison movements go through the Federal Transfer Center (FTC) located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma*. There are currently around 1320 inmates, usually held less than 3 weeks, housed in cell type living quarters held at Oklahoma City FTC*. (*BOP- website statistics 11/5/2020).

JPATS is considered the largest transporter of prisoners/inmates in the world. JPATS has approximately 10 aircraft in its fleet ranging from full size-sized Boeing 727's and McDonnell-Douglas MD-83's to smaller planes. Prisoners are handcuffed with ankle and waist chains and usually placed on the same flight as High, Medium, Low, and Minimum-security inmates. There were 103,563 JPATS prisoners’ air movements in 2019*.Some of these inmates are violent offenders with long prison sentences. US Marshall officers are outside the plane with shot guns when loading the plane and aboard the plane when it is in flight. This can be a very traumatic event to have to go through for many inmates. Some high-risk Federal Inmates should be transferred in this manner, but there are many low and minimum-security inmates that should be handled differently.

Let’s look at the numbers. Taxpayer Expenses:

FY 2019 Budget Actual - Order for Prisoner Transportation:

BOP* (Bureau of Prisons) = $19,973,000

USMS* (United States Marshal Service) = $32,199,000

$52,807,000* Total revenue collected from other taxpayer funded entities.

*United States Marshals Service FY 2021 Performance Budget President’s Budget Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System Revolving Fund dated February 2020

Operating Expenses (Dollars in Thousands)

2019 (Actual)

Aircraft Fuel: $9,596

Aircraft Maintenance $10,768

Aircraft Leases: $5,245

Aircraft Operating Expenses Total: $25, 609

Labor Related Expenses Actual

Civilian Labor $13,873

Employee Training $175

Guards, Contract Services $3,872

Labor Related Expenses Total $17,920

Mission Support Expenses Actual

Contract Crew $8

Aircraft Ground Support $343

Navigation Data, Tech Periodicals $183

Medical/PHS Expenses $262

Mission Travel $519

Mission Support Expenses Total $1,315

Non-Mission Support Expenses Actual

Facilities Expenses $1,389

Admin & Support Expenses $1,958

Non-Cap Equip Purchases/Rental $4,068

Non-Mission Travel $206

Other Expenses $128

Non-Mission Support Expenses Total $7,749

Total Expenses: $52,593,000.00

Average GS (General Schedule) Salary= $97,252.00

Average SES (Senior Executive Service) Salary= $186,542.00

Civilian Positions: 123*

Average transportation cost actual for 2019= $1328.00/prisoner* 3,804 hours flown* 103,563 prisoner air movements.

*cost per prisoner from place of origin to destination, that includes transportation and housing costs. United States Marshals Service FY 2020 Performance Budget President’s Budget Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System Revolving Fund February 2021.

There are currently 24,763 inmates at minimum security facilities (camps) and 56,393 inmates at low FCI facilities*. (BOP website statistics 11/5/2020)

Many of these inmates are first-time, non-violent offenders, that self-surrendered. Most minimum-security facilities have dorm like settings and have no perimeter fencing or bars on any windows or doors. Many prison jobs offered at these facilities are off the compound and prison facilities. If an inmate wanted to walk off the facility and compound they easily could. These inmates are more responsible than others, and just want to serve their time and move forward with their life in a productive manner. They are not a flight risk.

Why should these inmates who are headed to a minimum security facility, with no perimeter fencing, that pose no flight risk, have to take Con Air or go through a FTC (Federal Transfer Center) to reach their transfer destination? Many of them were never in handcuffs and never around other violent offenders. Why shackle them, place them with other very violent offenders including murders on Con Air, and put them in Cells at the FTC's. This is not a good way to reward good behavior for inmates that were granted a lower security designation for good behavior and were being transferred from low security FCI's to minimum security camps that typically have no perimeter fencing.

A Better Way

Allow most low and minimum-security level inmates the option to take a furlough, with all expenses borne by them, when transferring to a minimum-security (camp) level facility. There is currently a BOP furlough policy in place (BOP Program Statement-5280.09) that seems to be underutilized. It should be expanded and amended to allow both low and minimum-security level inmates more opportunities to use a transfer furlough. Having responsible family, friends, or loved one's assist in transferring these low flight risk inmates from their origin to their destination just makes more sense. These inmates are the least dangerous and lowest flight risk in the system and most initially turned themselves in and are nearing the end of their sentences. It would be a more humane, safer, and cost-effective way (saving taxpayers millions of tax dollars a year) to transfer inmates. Expanding and amending BOP's current policy on Transfer Furloughs deserves a closer look.

By: Robert Warney